An Overview of the Common Core Assessments

Teacher reading out loud to students in a classroom.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr / CC BY 2.0 

The adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) is arguably the biggest educational shift in the history of the United States. Having a set of national standards that most states have chosen to adopt is unprecedented. However, the bigger shift in traditional educational philosophy will come in the form of the Common Core assessment.

While the national adoption of the standards themselves is immense, the potential impact of having a shared national assessment system is even bigger. Most states would argue that the standards they already had in place align pretty well to the Common Core State Standards. However, the rigor and presentation of the new assessments will even challenge your top tier students.

Many school administrators and teachers will need to totally revamp their approach in order for their students to succeed on these assessments. What has been the norm when it comes to test prep will no longer be enough. In an age where a premium has been placed on high stakes testing, those stakes will have never been higher than they will be with the Common Core assessments.

Impact of a Shared Assessment System

There are several potential ramifications of having a shared assessment system. Many of these ramifications will be positive for education and many will no doubt be negative. First of all the pressure placed on students, teachers, and school administrators will be greater than ever. For the first time in educational history states will be able to accurately compare their students’ achievement to students in neighboring states. This factor alone will cause the pressures of high stakes testing to go through the roof.

Politicians will be forced to pay more attention and increase funding in education. They will not want to be a low performing state. The unfortunate reality is that many excellent teachers will lose their jobs and others will choose to enter another field simply because the pressure of getting students to perform well on these assessments will be too large.

The microscope for which teachers and school administrators will be under will be massive. The truth is that even the best teachers can have students perform poorly on an assessment. There are so many external factors that attribute to student performance that many would argue that basing the worth of a teacher on a single assessment is simply not valid. However, with the Common Core assessments, this will most likely be overlooked.

Most teachers will have to increase rigor in the classroom by challenging their students to think critically. This will be a challenge for both students and teachers. In an age where parents are less involved, and students have information readily given to them at the click of a mouse, developing critical thinking skills will be even more of a challenge. This has been arguably one of the most neglected areas of education, and it will no longer be an option to omit it. Students must excel in critical thinking if they are to perform well on these assessments. Teachers will have to restructure how they teach to develop these skills. This will be such as massive shift in teaching and learning philosophies that it may take a generation of students to cycle through before we see a large group truly start to develop these skills.

In the end, this shift in educational philosophy will better prepare our students to succeed. More students will be ready to transition to college or will be work ready when they graduate high school. In addition, the skills associated with the Common Core State Standards will prepare students to compete on the global level.

Another benefit of a shared assessment system will be that costs to individual states will be reduced dramatically. With each state having its own set of standards, they have had to pay to have tests developed specifically to meet those standards. This is an expensive endeavor and testing has become a multimillion dollar industry. Now with a common set of assessments, states will be able to share in the cost of test development, production, scoring, etc. This could potentially free up more money allowing it to be spent in other areas of education.

Who is developing these assessments?

There are currently two consortia responsible for developing these new assessment systems. These two consortia have been awarded funding through a competition to design new assessment systems. All states who have adopted the Common Core State Standards have selected a consortium in which they are a partner with other states. These assessments are currently in the development stage. The two consortia responsible for developing these assessments are:

  1. SMARTER Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) – Alabama, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Utah, Vermont, Washington, West Virginia, Wisconsin, and Wyoming.
  2. Partnership for Assessment of Readiness of College and Careers (PARCC) – Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Massachusetts, Mississippi, New Jersey, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, and Tennessee.

Within each consortia, there are states that have been selected to be a governing state and others who are a participating/advisory state. Those that are governing states have a representative that gives direct input and feedback into the development of the assessment that will accurately measure student progress toward college and career readiness.

What will these assessments look like?

The assessments are currently being developed by the SBAC and PARCC consortia, but a general description of what these assessments will look like has been released. There are a few released assessment and performance items available. You can find some sample performance tasks for English Language Art (ELA) in Appendix B of the Common Core State Standards.

The assessments will be through course assessments. This means that students will take a benchmark assessment at the beginning of the year, with the option of ongoing progress monitoring throughout the year, and then a final summative assessment towards the end of the school year. This type of assessment system will allow teachers to see where their students are at all times during the school year. It will allow a teacher to more readily cater to a particular students strengths and weaknesses to prepare them better for the summative assessment.

The assessments will be computer-based. This will allow for quicker, more accurate results and feedback on the computer scored portion of the assessments. There will be portions of the assessments that will be human scored.

One of the biggest challenges for school districts will be preparing for the computer-based assessments. Many districts across the United States do not have enough technology to test their entire district via computer at this time. During the transition period, this will be a priority that districts must prepare for.

All students grades K-12 will participate in some level of testing. Grades K-2 tests will be designed to set the foundation for students and also give information to teachers that will help them better prepare those students for the rigorous testing that begins in the 3rd grade. Grades 3-12 testing will be much more tied directly to the Common Core State Standards and will consist of a variety of item types.

Students will see a variety of item types including innovative constructed response, extended performance tasks, and selected response (all of which will be computer based). These are much more difficult than simple multiple choice questions as students will be assessed on multiple standards within one question. Students will often be expected to defend their work through a constructed essay response. This means that they simply won’t be able to come up with an answer, but will additionally need to defend the answer and explain the process through written response.

With these Common Core assessments, students must also be able to write coherently in the narrative, argumentative, and informative/explanatory forms. An emphasis on balance between traditional literature and informational text is expected within the framework of the Common Core State Standards. Students will be given a passage of text and will have to construct a response based on questions over that passage in a specific form of writing that the question asks for.

The transition to these types of assessments will be difficult. Many students will struggle initially. This will not be due to a lack of effort on teachers but will be based more on the overwhelming task at hand. This transition will take time. Understanding what the Common Core Standards are all about and what to expect from the assessments are the first steps in a long process of being successful.

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Meador, Derrick. "An Overview of the Common Core Assessments." ThoughtCo, Aug. 28, 2020, Meador, Derrick. (2020, August 28). An Overview of the Common Core Assessments. Retrieved from Meador, Derrick. "An Overview of the Common Core Assessments." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 20, 2023).